The Antidote for the Anti-Judges

Part of the reason that so many people are angry at judges these days is that so many people are completely uninformed about what judges do. Such ignorance breeds, as it always does, suspicion and fear. Part of the reason for this lack of knowledge about how often judges do well (and do good) is the judiciary itself, which has in the main opposed most attempts to introduce cameras into courtrooms so that all of us can see what goes on in there. However, in 2006, forty years after the Sam Sheppard re-trial, there is no longer any good reason to keep trials off television. You know it. I know it. And in the bottom of his or her robed heart every judge knows it too.

Which brings us to Connecticut Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice David Borden. Today, Justice Borden is set to announce whether he will allow cameras into the state's courtrooms for criminal trials. The matter is before him not because of any one case but rather because the state judiciary's Public Access Task Force is recommending it. And the shocking thing is that reactionaries on the court even now are bombarding Borden with all of the "horribles" that will happen when a tiny, unobtrusive camera beams the truth about a trial into America's living room. The sky will fall! The sky will fall!, these jurists claim, if cameras are allowed in court. The truth is, the way things are going in this country, the sky is much more likely to fall upon the judiciary if judges do not allow the sunlight to shine on the mainly heroic job they do every day.

Witnesses will be afraid. Lawyers will preen. Judges will be more likely to lose their minds like Lance Ito. These are just some of the fears that judges (and some lawyers) have about opening up the courts to cameras Only problem is that these things already happen in courtrooms from Maine to Alaska without the cameras rolling. Besides, have you seen a televised trial on Court TV lately? The technology is amazing and there are plenty of opportunities for the parties, or the court, to protect identies as they see fit. Jurors are never, ever seen, and judges who do have cameras in their courtroom have been adept at handling them and the journalists to which they are attached.

I have argued in the past against televised trials. For example, I didn't think the Lee Boyd Malvo sniper trial should have been televised and it was not. But I think the vast majority of criminal trials in this country could and should be televised absent some extraordinary reason not to. I think that judges and lawyers, by and large a conservative (in the non-ideological, old-fashioned meaning of the word) lot, believe that danger is inherent in change. They are wrong and if they don't believe me they should ask their colleagues in those states where cameras have been allowed into court. The sky has not fallen down on those open-minded judges. It has not crashed headlong on the laps of jurors. Cameras have not determined the outcome of a single reported case.

Judges have enough to be afraid of these days. They shouldn't be afraid of opening their workplaces to the world. In fact, by reminding people of just how well the justice system usually works, it's the only way they are going to be able to protect their independence and authority.

By Andrew Cohen |  September 28, 2006; 7:00 AM ET
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